Through His teaching, whether it be in parables or straight forward sermons, Jesus is preparing His disciples to be scribes for the kingdom of heaven. In other words Jesus is teaching the 12 how to be teachers of both the Old (Testament) and the New (Testament). When Jesus is done with them, after His resurrection from the dead, these men will be ready to bring the wealth of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
The parables in Matthew 13:44-52 serve that purpose. In the first two parables Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a man who finds something of value. A trespasser finds a hidden treasure. A merchant finds a unique pearl. And they sell all that they own to possess these items. The trespasser buys the entire field to possess the treasure. The merchant buys just that one specific pearl.
The point of this parable is not, however, what you might think. Typically these parables are interpreted to mean that you or I are the man who finds the valuable object, which is the kingdom of God and we should then sell all that we have in order to possess it.
And that would be ok, if it were possible. The problem is that it is not possible. It is not possible for you (or me) to seek God or to find His kingdom. Born into the darkness of sin we have no hope of locating such a precious treasure. Nor would we have the ability, if we could find it, to purchase it for ourselves. We lack the spiritual capital to buy any good gift from God.
Think back to the first major sermon of Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount. How does it begin? Blessed are the spiritually poor. Blessed are those who are poor in spiritual things, that being all of humanity. We are poor as we stand before God. How could we hope to sell all that we have and obtain the kingdom of heaven? We can’t. We don’t have anything of value to offer for it.
If we take this interpretation of the parable we are in serious trouble. We will never, ever, be able to find the kingdom, let alone buy our way into it. This parable would leave the disciples of Jesus, and us along with them, in total despair.
So let us take a different view. Jesus is not trying to disparage the disciples, but to strengthen them, to encourage their faith and give them confidence in God’s love and grace. So what do these parables mean?
The kingdom of heaven does not depend upon whether or not we can find it or buy our way into it. It depends solely upon the work of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the man. The disciples are the treasure.
The kingdom of heaven is here when Jesus is trespassing through the fields of the devil and He finds what He is looking for, His wanted treasure. The kingdom of heaven is here when Jesus locates the one thing He came to find, the pearl of greatest value.
The kingdom is here when Jesus Christ, the Son of God, gives up all that He has, sets aside the power and glory of heaven, and pays the ultimate price to possess what He wants. And what He wants is you.
Jesus is not poor in spirit, but wealthy in everything. He is the Son of God for crying out loud! He possesses the heavens and the earth. How owns the universe. He needs for nothing. And He gives it all up, He lays it all aside, to purchase for Himself what He values above everything else: His Church.
Even with respect to His humanity, Jesus gave up all, even His life, shedding His innocent blood, that we might belong to His Father in heaven.
But from what did Jesus purchase us? To whom did we belong before He paid the price for us? The answer to that is hidden in the third parable about the net and the fish. The kingdom of heaven is like a net cast into the sea that gathers all sorts of fish, which are then separated between the good (the edible) and the bad (the gross).
So that His disciples will not fool themselves into thinking that they are free and clear from the judgment of God on the Last Day Jesus reminds them that the day is coming when He will judge the quick and the dead. The evil will be purged from among the righteous and thrown into the fiery furnace.
The disciples, and by extension we, are purchased from the pile of fish gone bad. We are bought back from the fiery furnace to which we are destined because of the evil that resides in our hearts and minds, because of the good that we have failed to do and the wickedness that we have been all too eager to attempt.
We were bad fish, rotten to the core, not fit for the Master’s table. Our sin places us squarely in the bucket that is meant to be burned with the trash. But Jesus comes along searching for something, looking for treasure among the trash. And when He finds us He gives up everything for us, even His own life.
You see, these parables are not about how Jesus finds a diamond in the rough. They are about how Jesus finds a piece of trash like me and bleeds and dies for it anyway. We are not valuable in and of ourselves. We have value because of the price that God in Christ is willing to pay for us.
A treasure has no value at all unless someone is willing to pay for it. A pearl is just a worthless rock unless someone takes a shining to it and gives it value.
Take a wedding ring, for example. By itself it is not worth all that much. It is basically useless to anyone else. But to me, to the wearer, it is priceless. Your wedding band is worth more than anyone could give you for it. It has value because you love it (or at least the person who gave it to you), not the other way around.
We have value for the same reason that the children of Israel had value in the Old Testament lesson: because of God’s love for us and His faithfulness towards us. That faithfulness has given us the ultimate value: the blood of Jesus, the life of the Son of God. He has paid the ultimate price so that we would have the ultimate value.